Turkish Delight

Last updated : 09 February 2006 By James Olley
At the risk of being labelled a nationalistic xenophobe (which isn't catchy enough to stick anyway), I for one am delighted by the punishment FIFA has dished out to the Turkish football team.

This week, FIFA dished out the biggest punishment in its history, ordering Turkey to play their next 6 competitive home games on neutral soil, fining the FA nearly £100,000, and banning six players for anything up to six games.

The fine comes after a brawl with Switzerland players in the aftermath of last year's World Cup playoff. This is the latest in a catalogue of unsavoury incidents involving Turkish fans and players that have highlighted England's progress in this area.

For many years, British football has tried to sweep its tainted past under the rug and create the feeling that England had hooliganism under control. However, every time England go to a major tournament, there tends to be a problem and the country is cast under a shadow. Let's not forget how close England were to being kicked out of Euro 2004.

It is difficult to assess how far England have come, but it seems fair to state that significant progress has been made. There seems to be some truth in the often cited argument that England's reputation goes before them and they consequently receive aggressive police treatment. This would seem to be corroborated by the fact that not one Englishman was arrested when our police did the job at Euro 96.

However, there are still some in this country who use the game as an excuse for violence; organised groups meeting as a pre-cursor to fighting, with the football a distant backdrop. Admirably, the British media wholly condemns any violence associated with sport, and actively aids the attempts to clean the game up. This is what makes the Turkish reaction, by contrast, astounding.

"A clash of civilisations," read a headline in Yeni Safak.

"What is the spectator's crime?  An unjust punishment from FIFA," read the front page headline of the Sabah newspaper.

There may not have been much in the way of fan disruption in the game in question, but it could easily be interpreted as the implementation of a suspended sentence. Turkish fans have been notoriously hostile in recent years, none more so than when two Leeds fans were murdered by Galatasaray fans in 2000.

Andrew Henshaw, who was at the game, said at the time:

"Galatasary fans showed no respect at all.  Only the Leeds fans held the minute's silence."

Leeds' fan Paul Cochran added: "It was just unreal.  You have never seen anything like it in your life."

Galatasary fans were banned from the second leg, but FIFA let the club off lightly. There were many people who called for sanctions to be imposed, and it is difficult to escape the feeling that they would have been had an English fan been the aggressor.  (Ok, these people included the over-zealous and perennial bandwagoner David Mellor, but he did have a point)

Indeed, after England's 0-0 draw in Turkey to clinch qualification for Euro 2004, both FAs were fined a nominal amount (Turkey three times as much as England), but no player was charged and no suspensions were imposed.

And so it is with a wry smile that the news came through yesterday that Alpay, undoubtedly the instigator of the England tunnel brawl and central to the spate with Switzerland , is among those to be banned.

It is worrying when the Turkish media seem to feel that the decison has been subject to the mood in contemporary politics.

Yeni Safak newspaper: "The increasing political hostility in Europe is reflected in the decisions of FIFA's disciplinary committee."

Whatever the political machinations of the European Union, there can surely be little doubt that FIFA have finally had enough of these constant indiscretions.

This is not an article designed to taunt the Turkish, but merely to emphasise that this ruling has redressed a previously lenient record of punishments handed out from FIFA to Turkey.

"FIFA did not see the tears in our eyes.  We were nearly expelled," read a headline in Milliyet news.  Now they know how we felt.